Ms Parsons, a qualified non-practising barrister, began working for Airplus International Ltd as its Legal and Compliance Officer on 17 August 2015 on a six-month probationary period.
Concerns were soon raised about her ability to do the job, not least because of a seemingly “irrational fear” that she had of facing “personal liability” if the company was not compliant with the regulations, although she could not explain the basis of these fears. For instance, she was concerned when she found out that the company’s consumer credit licence (CCL) had lapsed, despite the fact that it did not provide any consumer products. Colleagues had also complained that, on occasion, they found her conduct confrontational, rude and unhelpful.
Although she was given training and support, her managers became increasingly concerned about her performance. After attempting to remove some of the pressure by giving her a different job title, the company could not see any improvement and decided to dismiss her after only six weeks explaining that it was felt that she was a "cultural misfit".
Ms Parsons brought tribunal proceedings for automatically unfair dismissal on the ground that she had made various protected disclosures.
Section 43B of the Employment Rights Act 1996 states that: “a "qualifying disclosure" means any disclosure of information which, in the reasonable belief of the worker making the disclosure, [is made in the public interest” … and tends to show “that a person has failed, is failing or is likely to fail to comply with any legal obligation to which he [sic] is subject”.
The tribunal concluded that Ms Parsons had not made any protected disclosures except in relation to the disclosure of information concerning the company’s lapsed CCL. However, as it was satisfied that she had made that disclosure in self-interest as opposed to the public interest, it rejected her claim.
Ms Parsons appealed on the ground that the tribunal was wrong to conclude that a disclosure in self-interest could not also be in the public interest.
Although the tribunal made a mistake in relation to one disclosure, the EAT held that it would not have come to a different conclusion even if it had not made that error. As it had found as a matter of fact that the disclosures were solely made in Ms Parsons’ self-interest, it could not be said to have wrongly assumed that this could not also be a matter of public interest. On the contrary it had found, on the facts, that it was not.
This was because the tribunal concluded that the real reason for the decision to dismiss was Ms Parsons’ conduct, her relationship with her colleagues and her ability to be effective at her job. The “coincidence of timing” in terms of the concerns she was raising was just that – a coincidence.
It therefore upheld the tribunal’s finding that the reason for dismissal was not Ms Parsons’ disclosures, but because of her reaction thereafter - her inability to explain her concerns, her failure to listen to others and her rudeness.
This case clarifies that a disclosure which is made in the interest of the discloser only will not be protected by whistleblowing protection. However, these types of cases will turn on their own facts, a disclosure which is made in self-interest may also be made in the public interest. Before dismissing an employee, an employer will therefore have to provide fairly strong evidence that a disclosure was made for self-interest only.